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Unpeeling the onion of complexity: marketing directors must simplify the industry to deliver growth

by uma
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By Lars Lehne, Global CEO, Incubeta

Most might agree that there isn’t a great deal connecting the marketing industry to an onion. Except that both have layers that must be unpicked to understand their core, and like that of an onion, today’s marketing ecosystem is increasingly layered and complex.

Changing privacy regulations, digital transformation, shifting customer demographics, legacy infrastructure and rising costs are all layers putting marketers under pressure. And the trick to successfully maneuvering through the ever-changing industry landscape? Working out how to unpeel the layers of that marketing onion. A problem the marketing industry has been trying to get to grips with for decades.

As far back as 2003, 92% of marketers believed marketing had become too complicated thanks to the changing complexity of consumers’ lives. That has only intensified in the two decades since. Two recessions, a pandemic, the advent of smartphones, social media and the ecommerce revolution has seen consumer behavior change dramatically, bringing yet another layer of intricacy impacting the industry, our work and our roles.

Despite all that change, brands today still don’t have the right operating model for the shifting landscape. Just this month, L’Oreal’s CMO Lex Bradshaw-Zanger shared that he feel’s marketing needs demystifying to help young talent grow in their roles. Today’s marketing directors are overwhelmed as they try to deliver growth and reach the right consumers with the right brand products at the right time.

Combine this with constant changes to the marketing landscape, including the removal of cookies, drastic changes to privacy regulations, digital transformation, and legacy infrastructure, and it’s no wonder that 63% of marketers feel they are under extreme pressure to deliver revenue growth.

In order to keep ahead of these changes, you need to identify the different layers blocking your path to success – by removing the overarching complexities and allowing you to focus on one aspect at a time.

The outer layers: complexities of the consumer

Understanding the challenges faced by consumers is the first step in refining your marketing strategy. With so much going on in the world, it’s become tougher than ever to understand consumer behavior and their purchase journeys – especially with so many impacted by the current cost of living crisis.

First, look at how you receive your consumer data, the depth of the data you’re receiving and the insights you can gain from it. Over the past few years alone, there have been a number of monumental, wide-reaching global developments, each impacting consumer behavior in a different way. This means it’s no longer possible to rely on legacy data for consumer insights, but instead you must keep a constant eye on the fluctuation in consumer purchase patterns and the external events that influence them. Adapt your data approach by introducing new technologies, such as augmented reality tools – like virtual product try-on, or ‘see this product in your home’ services –  which can provide you with new granular first-party data streams, as well as offering a more interactive experience for the consumer.


With current economic conditions continuing to affect a large part of the world, the customer buying journey will become longer, as buyers spend an increased amount of time conducting independent research and product comparison to ensure their money is spent wisely. As a result, marketers will need to bolster their efforts to regenerate demand, with more touchpoints to highlight how their product or service will solve the buyer’s pain points. Consumers are increasingly more likely to check reviews and look for user-generated content (UGC) when making a purchase decision, so it’s worth redesigning your website or content strategy to put these front and center. By including user reviews on your product pages and adding UGC from your customers, you can streamline the process and mitigate the number of additional steps on the buyer journey – increasing the likelihood of conversion.

The inner layers: complexities in the industry

The way in which we reach consumers is also rapidly changing. Therefore an understanding of the new marketing landscape is paramount to success.

One of the biggest changes to hit marketing over the past couple of years was the pivot towards a digital-first approach. This approach comes alongside a global digital transformation and directly affects the way in which we interact with consumers, as well as affecting consumer expectations. Our customers have become a part of the conversation, with marketing becoming a dialogue between company and consumer, requiring constant, often real-time, interactions. This means marketing teams need to be more flexible and nimbler in their approach, and marketing managers need to lead the charge, focusing on full funnel strategies that allow interaction along the entire customer journey to establish, and continue to nurture, a relationship with the buyer. While this can be resource heavy and add additional pressure to already tight marketing budgets, introducing further automation in other areas of your marketing plan – such as Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) – can help to free up both time and money.

With a surge in ecommerce and online transactions, there is also a growing expectation for more personalized customer experiences. A McKinsey study shows that 71% of consumers now expect personalization in their interactions with businesses, and 76% are frustrated if they don’t receive it. Introducing personalization to your marketing means a consumer is more likely to purchase and repurchase from your brand, as well as increasing the likelihood of them recommending you to others.

Marketers must also ensure they are prepared for the changes to privacy regulations, removal of cookies, and the sunsetting of Universal Analytics. Data compliancy issues can have devastating consequences, with regulators allowing just 14 days to turn around any non-compliancy, forcing a shutdown of your entire online presence if this isn’t achieved. This will not only place a renewed reliance on first-party data and data sharing, but will also require more focused advertising strategies to get the right message across to your target audience and impact the way in which we measure success.

The core: complexities of the marketing team

Unsurprisingly, at the core of the marketing onion, is the marketing team. Complex campaigns require integration, as do different teams, to allow for skills, resources, savings and big ideas to be shared. If creative teams are separate, then their knowledge, insights and talents are kept separate as well.

One way to address this is to remove data silos between departments. The removal of third-party cookies will require companies to delve deeper into existing first-party data, and organizing your data into a single source will make it easier for your team to access the data they need, and help them identify trends, patterns, and changes in consumer behavior.

It is also important to ensure that your team unifies its approach with other teams as well – particularly IT and sales. With these teams working in tandem, companies can streamline experiences to easily improve the consumer experience. Removing silos and developing collaboration among key players within these teams will help you shape your marketing and sales approach, ultimately driving your growth.

Embracing the whole onion

Marketing as an industry, just like the world, is developing rapidly and, as such, it’s important for marketers to remain resilient, keep on top of changing developments and adapt their strategies to suit. However, with dramatic changes taking place on an almost daily basis, it can be overwhelming trying to deal with everything at the same time.

Breaking down the complexity of marketing and peeling back one layer at a time can help to identify focus areas in order to build a response. By strengthening your approach to social, economic, and geopolitical developments and outlining a strategy to best utilize the growing digitalization of the marketing landscape, you can demystify the marketing journey.

Stay curious but don’t hop on every bandwagon – use experience, gut feel and healthy dose of self-confidence not to mention the right, trustworthy partners to make the right decisions.

This, alongside a unified approach from different teams within your organization, can provide clarity – helping to achieve goals and deliver standout growth to your organization.   



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